By Ryan Cornell
WOODSTOCK -- Since Shenandoah County supervisors approved a fiscal 2015 budget last week that reduces local funding for the school system by about $1.11 million less than proposed by the School Board, the division has been scrambling to figure out what to keep and what to cut out.
The School Board met for a budget work session Monday to identify priorities in its budget and discuss what could be reduced or deferred for next year.
These priorities included "staff excellence" needs such as increasing teacher salary scales to the benchmark and adding a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for staff, as well as improving schools' Internet bandwidth and wireless infrastructure and implementing a STEM curriculum.
Division Superintendent Jeremy Raley advised School Board members to find the needs that are in the best interests of the students that will ensure student ability and achievement.
"Anything that we do, there will be implications. Any reduction we make is not going to be an easy reduction because we've identified those as needs," he said.
In addition to attracting and retaining talented teachers through fixing salary scales, he said the division also needs to add teachers to combat the looming issue of overcapacity.
"If we don't add teachers at [W.W] Robinson, we will lose state funding, and we don't want 28 students in a third grade class as well," he said. "We know we're going to have 28 students in third grade if we don't add a teacher."
School Board member Kathryn Holsinger said a priority is fixing the salary scales of teachers. If county government employees are receiving pay raises, she said, then school employees also deserve raises.
"If we don't fix our salary scales, we're not going to be able to hire any teachers other than the ones that nobody else wants," she said.
Board member Katheryn Freakley noted the community support shown during the public hearing on the county tax rates earlier this month.
"Most of them said teachers deserve to make a decent living, so that was really the underlying voice that I heard whether you were a teacher or not," she said.
Board Chairman Rick Koontz said one item they might be want to consider deferring from the budget is the hiring of a contingency teacher. Raley also discussed reducing the three proposed Instructional technology resource coaches to one who would rotate among the three high schools.
The amount of state revenue that would support the school division still has not been decided yet.
Raley envisioned scheduling two more budget work sessions, with the next one at 5 p.m. May 8.
School board members Karen Whetzel and Sonya Williams-Giersch were absent from Monday's budget work session.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org